I loved reading Marshall Lewis' bio on his website, fluid words forming sentences I had to think long and hard about – much like his lyrics. Music, writes Marshall, "made me feel like I was building myself again." Wise words for someone so young, and hopefully, with much more building in front of him. Yes, at 21, Lewis is still quite young, but his sound is not: Therefore, critics might call him an "old soul" in their musings on his work.
But I don't think that's exactly accurate.
On his debut EP Higher Nature, he's a young soul dealing with old issues and on his second effort, Learned he's still a young soul dealing with old issues but now from the vantage point of someone who has punched through the tangled webs of myriad volatile emotions, mastered his crafts in the process, and left a platonic, beseeching love letter to the world. On Learned Lewis is responsible for the vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, slide guitar, banjo, keys, percussion and the album is produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by former music blogger Kevin Flick (of Puddlegum fame; more on that later) and Lewis himself. Both men seem generous, adventurous – and I think both have looked into the void, browsed around for a while, taken serious inventory, and returned with this album.
They've learned a few things, and we can, too.
After time with the albums, I sat down with Lewis and Flick to gather details of their writing partnership. Learned was released today. Listen in full above.
NUVO: Is there a tour schedule?
kevin Flick: We had spent nearly 12 months writing and recording for this EP, and during that time we didn't play many shows. The recording process was intensive and involving, and we tend to be perfectionists, tracking until we get the right take. Now that the EP is finished, we're beginning to set up shows again. We have several shows in November, with more in the works. But we plan on playing quite a bit and should begin performing out of state soon. We're going to release the EP, Learned, locally on November 10 (via Bandcamp), and then nationally in the spring (promoting it through a PR agency that we're talking with). Expect a music video for "Look Around," along with professionally produced live videos of our songs. We also have new material that we'll most likely begin recording before the EP is formally released in the spring.
NUVO: Lewis' bio starts thusly: "He is only the messenger." What are some of the most important messages this album delivered?
Flick: Marshall tends to write from a place where he's at in that given moment. He's able to channel the emotions he's experiencing and things he's going through and put them into words that people connect with. He started writing songs when he was 18, three years ago, while I was working with him in the studio and helping him develop as an artist. Songwriting is very natural for him.
Marshall Lewis: Ha! I don't know if I've ever delivered any "important" messages. My music comes from a real and deep part of me. It's a place where I can be vulnerable and honest. I think that vulnerability is contagious. Sometimes we need to see someone else take the first step. I know Sufjan's new record Carrie and Lowell did that for me. So I guess that's what I meant by "messenger" – someone who can use music to help other people reconcile their experiences.
I write about many things. But overall, each writing (or message) heralds from one of just a few more encompassing departments within my head. Some of these departments are reflections, things I've been taught, or direct reactions to certain experiences. Most importantly I believe this: You are not alone. This applies for every situation. I've been there, I know what it's like to feel alone (ask me about it sometime). Also, there are things to be learned from every individual experience.
NUVO: Have you and Lewis left Indiana to travel for fun, tour, vacation?
Flick: We are focusing primarily at this time on our region, and we're setting up shows at venues within eight hours of Bloomington. Our town, as well as Indianapolis, is in a strategic location, several hours away from Chicago, Nashville and Louisville. In the coming months we plan on traveling more and playing out of state. Part of the issue that we faced in the past was that Marshall wasn't 21, so this limited where we could perform. But now that he's older, it opens a lot of venues. And we believe that he has developed as an artist and is ready to be heard.
Lewis: The company I work for has allowed me to travel everywhere, from California to the Carolinas. We take pictures of celebrities. Whenever we're traveling, it gets me excited to go back to these places with my music. We are mostly booking shows in the Midwest right now, but a national tour is no longer a distant dream.
NUVO: Does Lewis have formal education? And where would he indicate his informal education has come from?
Flick: The informal education that Marshall has had is time in the studio. We're fortunate enough to own our own recording gear, which means that we've probably spent 1,000 hours recording and mixing. Our first EP had six songs, but we recorded over 20 that didn't make it, and Learned has three b-sides. This time in the studio and time spent writing material has been invaluable for us, helping us grow as artists. There isn't a formal educational experience that could teach us the things we learned in the studio.
Lewis: After high school, I dove straight into pursuing music. For me, an informal education is a constant pursuit, inspired by the world around me. There's a book where a shepherd crosses the desert to find hidden treasure in Egypt. Throughout his journey, he intentionally learns from every person, place, and situation. I think he was on to something. Life is informal education, for those willing to learn. Also, they tell the shepherd that if he doesn't chase his dream, he's going to regret it for the rest of his life. So there's an echo of truth in that for me as well!
NUVO: Can you provide some background info on yourself and when you met Lewis?
Flick: I started out in the music industry in 1997 when I started the internet's first music blog, Puddlegum. I wrote about music for years, reviewing music, interviewing artists, posting music news and writing opinion pieces. Puddlegum hit its peak in 2007 when I wrote a piece about Radiohead's In Rainbows, suggesting a connection between In Rainbows and OK Computer. The article was quite controversial and was written about in Rolling Stone, and many other publications and music sites, as well as being mentioned by Thom Yorke during a BBC Radio interview with Steve Lamacq.
It was also during this time that I became heavily interested in recording and decided to attend Recording Workshop (Chillicothe, Ohio). The brief education and experience I received there helped me develop as a recording engineer. I attempted to start my own record label, working with T.W. Walsh (Pedro the Lion), but things didn't work out. I did learn a tremendous amount during that experience, though!
I met Marshall three years ago. By this point I was giving up on recording music and was attending Indiana University. He had just turned 18, and I met with him on a regular basis to talk about life and to help provide direction. It turned out that he was an aspiring musician and I happened to have all of this recording gear sitting in my storage unit. I agreed to record demos with him, but I had no idea he had the raw talent that he has. We met two or three times a week recording both EPs over the past three years... and our relationship, both business and personal, grew.
In the past three years I also dealt with serious health issues, both kidney failure and a brain tumor. I had eight surgeries, including a kidney transplant and brain surgery, and was on dialysis for a year. Working together on music during this time was cathartic for both of us, and it helped both of us through the difficult things we were going through.